Natasha’s a paramedic, Melissa’s a police officer… and when they turn up on the same job colleagues can’t tell them apart. Angella Johnson discovers how their ‘telepathic bond’ makes them a phenomenal team in an emergency.
Born within five minutes of each other, identical twins Natalia and Melissa Croney are so alike that even their parents struggle to tell them apart. Both tall and slim with long, dark hair and piercing green eyes, they grew up as tomboys, preferring to make guns out of Lego than play with dolls’ houses, and are fluent in three languages: French, English and Greek. In fact, the 42-year-olds are so similar, it’s only their uniforms that set them apart.
Both Natalia and Melissa have been decorated for bravery after devoting their lives to working on London’s tough frontline – Melissa as a specialist firearms officer with the Metropolitan Police and Natalia as a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service’s hazardous area response team (HART), which provides life-saving medical care in hostile and dangerous ‘hot zones’. It’s no wonder they’ve become known as ‘the 999 twins’.
Police officer Melissa was in the thick of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017, helping to save lives and shepherding terrified people to safety. She received a special commendation for her efforts last year from Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick. Shortly afterwards, paramedic Natalia was also handed a bravery award for her part in helping to tackle a crazed man wielding two knives.
It’s not just their looks that are similar – it’s their attitude to life, too. Both are London university graduates, who decided to follow careers that make a difference, rather than chase high salaries. Both have the confidence that comes from excelling in high-pressure, usually male-dominated environments, helping to pave the way for a younger generation of women. Indeed, Melissa is one of only 63 women in the 841-strong specialist firearms unit, while paramedic Natalia’s team consists of 94 men and just 14 women.
For the twins, who are often sent out to the same emergencies, it’s not surprising that their lives have followed parallel paths as they’ve always done everything together. Melissa, the firstborn and slightly dominant of the sisters, joined the police as a constable in 2002, straight from university, with Natalia entering the ambulance service in 2005 – delayed by a three-year waiting list.
The remarkable symmetry in their lives extends even to their romantic relationships: Natalia’s partner Dom Green, 34, is a paramedic as well, while Melissa’s other half, Ricardo Martins, 41, is also a Metropolitan Police officer.
The sisters, whose father is English and mother Greek, grew up in Chiswick, West London and attended the French Lycée school in South Kensington. Nothing in their privileged background indicated that they would one day choose the kind of dangerous jobs where they would risk their lives to save others.
‘We were terribly shy and never needed anyone else,’ explains Natalia. ‘Our parents were initially worried because we only wanted to be with each other and had our own secret language that no one else understood.
‘When we eventually started to have friends, they would have to take us as a unit. We refused to be separated, even when one teacher tried. We just kept swapping around until she became confused and gave up.’
Growing up, the twins were energetic and sporty – spending most of their spare time either on the games pitch or in the swimming pool and excelling at every discipline they turned their hand to. But, aged 18, their different academic interests led to their first real separation, with Natalia studying management and system science at City, University of London, while Melissa pursued a law degree ‘down the road’ at the University of Westminster. Even as students, however, they lived together in Chiswick.
Melissa was the first to opt for a career in the public service. ‘I am very dogged and liked the idea of solving the crime not just punishing the offender,’ she says. Natalia found herself caring for her elderly grandparents after leaving university and felt what she describes as ‘a calling’ to people who were ailing. She says, ‘I remember thinking that I didn’t want to just help save lives but to be the person supporting someone in a time of acute crisis.’
Natalia applied for a posting in Hanwell, West London, where Melissa was serving as a constable, and the sisters found themselves responding to the same calls as often as once a week. ‘We would regularly see each other at emergencies, such as domestic violence incidents or after someone had collapsed and was unconscious,’ says Natalia.
‘While Mel would be handling the more confrontational stuff, I’d be doing the compassionate things, such as making sure that whoever was in trouble was OK.
‘It was odd at first and people would often be surprised to see two identical people attending an emergency. To avoid shocking people, the first one who arrived would warn the others that her twin was coming.’
Still, there were the inevitable mix-ups. ‘Often people will come up to me and say, “I didn’t know that you had become a paramedic,” not realising that I’m Mel’s twin,’ laughs Natalia. ‘When Mel once turned up to a road accident, the ambulance crew there started handing her a defibrillator, thinking she was me.’
The women even share their respective professional skills, with Natalia teaching Melissa how to use life-saving equipment in return for tips on how to subdue a criminal. They believe that being identical has helped in their jobs. ‘Knowing what the other is thinking makes us super-efficient when we are called out to the same emergency,’ Natalia says. Their impressive teamwork soon led to them gaining a reputation among London’s emergency services.
A colleague once said of them, ‘If you see the twins together you know that whatever the problem, nothing would escape their scrutiny… their telepathic sisterly bond’ and insistence on getting to the bottom of a problem makes them work like a ‘well-oiled machine.’
‘We know each other inside out and sometimes don’t even have to speak when dealing with a situation, as we know exactly what the other is thinking or about to do. We can anticipate the other’s action with just a look then do what needs to be done,’ says Melissa.
‘As women, we bring other skills to the job – such as intuition, compassion and patience. There are definitely times when a feminine touch helps to defuse tension if things get heated, especially in the world of firearms where a situation can sometimes be resolved though communication rather than aggression.’ For example, Natalia recalls arriving at a scene where a man had barricaded himself into his home and was behaving erratically. Both the police and ambulance service were called and the male officers wanted to break down the door. She convinced them to let her knock on the door and eventually persuaded the man to open it.
But Natalia insists she didn’t sign up to the ambulance service to save lives. ‘I joined because I hoped to make a difference to someone when they were experiencing a crisis – going through something that was so awful that it took their breath away. I never wanted anyone to go through anything bad alone. I wanted to help make the worst moment of someone’s life less traumatic and lonely. After all, people usually only call 999 when they are in dire straits.’
She flirted with jobs in media and the dotcom sector while waiting for her application to be accepted. ‘It was very hard to get into the ambulance service back then, though now they would chew my arm off to employ me.’
‘We definitely won’t get rich with what we earn,’ says Natalia. ‘But the pay is better now than it was when we started out and we really enjoy what we do. Plus, helping others means that we sleep very well at night.’
Their career progression hasn’t always been easy. When Melissa moved to the armed response unit in 2008 she encountered some outdated attitudes. ‘It’s tough enough being a policewoman but a number of firearms officers still have the belief that women should not be carrying guns. It’s a sexist attitude, but I don’t let it affect me now.
‘Of course, it was harder when I first started training with firearms 11 years ago, because I stood out. And if I ever made a mistake, the instructors would be on me like a ton of bricks – but it just made me work harder.
‘I have earned my place and always give 110 per cent because I feel I have to work harder. There is no difference in the way I perform compared to a man. We all have to complete the same fitness tests.’
Natalia, too, faced similar prejudices joining HART. She says, ‘I really felt I had to prove myself in gruelling training that involves using specialised equipment, such as breathing apparatus and climbing tethers for working at height. I also had to learn to use cutting equipment for extrication and rafts for working on water. The ambulance service has traditionally been male-dominated and, at HART, even the equipment was designed to suit huge burly men. It took time for them to get different sizes.’
As they continue to forge their own paths professionally, the dynamic duo remain as close as ever. Ultimately, they believe their bond makes them stronger. ‘We complement and strengthen each other,’ says Natalia. ‘Mel is my other half – we’re literally halves, split from the same egg, so the connection is always there and it’s a force to be reckoned with.’